By Noah Lee and Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim spoke in parliament on Tuesday about his prior sodomy convictions, after the opposition attacked him about his sexuality while debating a confidence vote a day earlier.
In 2018, the king of the Muslim-majority country pardoned him in recognizing there had been a “clear travesty of justice,” Anwar said about the convictions during his first address to parliament as head of Malaysia’s new government.
“I was not asking for royal pardon because I was punished, I want to make it clear on the record,” Anwar told fellow lawmakers.
“His Majesty called me and stated: ‘Anwar I will grant a full royal pardon because I followed the progress of your trial. It was a clear travesty of justice. That was the phrase he used,’” Anwar said.
An opposition member tried to interject by asking Anwar to get to the day’s order of business, but the PM replied: “I will get to that in a minute. I know my statement may be hard for you to hear because you have been playing this up.”
During his trial, he went on to say, there were breaches in the principles of justice, such as coercing people to stand as witnesses and starting investigations without police reports being lodged.
Anwar had been sentenced to five years in prison in 2015 for sodomy, charges he had said were politically motivated.
He was freed after spending three years in prison and his convictions, including one orchestrated by former PM Mahathir Mohamad in the late 1990s, were expunged. Under the Malaysian federal constitution, offenders granted a royal pardon are considered to have no criminal record.
The king’s pardon also paved the way for Anwar’s return to national politics, without which he would have been disqualified for five years from running for office after his release.
Anwar delivered the comments in parliament a day after opposition MPs made thinly veiled personal attacks against him during a debate on a confidence motion on his prime ministership.
After the motion was introduced on the parliamentary floor Monday, opposition bloc Perikatan Nasional MP Hamzah Zainudin stood and called on PM Anwar to take strict action against an international news outlet for spreading “disrespectful” information about him.
Hamzah then read out the headline from the news outlet, Agenzia Nova: “First full-blown homosexual elected prime minister in an Islamic country.”
“They are insulting the prime minister. Strict action must be taken. The government bears the responsibility to inform the world that [Anwar] has already received a royal pardon.”
According to local news outlet The Vibes, Hamzah also said: “(Anwar) should fine the publication. Do not let things get to the point where the whole world believes that (Anwar) is a raging homosexual.”
One MP also spoke about the “rape and sodomy of democracy,” according to Bloomberg News.
‘Deviate from national issues’
Political analyst Bridget Welsh castigated lawmakers from former PM Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan bloc for their behavior in parliament on Monday.
“[They] engaged in a personal attack on the Prime Minister,” Welsh told BenarNews.
“This really shows that Perikatan is not willing to accept the result and is working hard to destabilize the current government,” she said about the bloc, which counts hardline Islamic party PAS as one of its main constituents.
Some people on social media were also critical of Perikatan’s tactics.
“Can’t believe Anwar’s sodomy cases are still the main issues that people, especially the low class minded, talk about. Yes, low class minded, because you clearly don’t have any idea how to criticize his policies because you know nothing, so you play the narrative to deviate from national issues,” @Fa_ilmi wrote on Twitter.
Another person brought up the “green belt,” that is, the conservative Muslim constituency, which they believe lawmaker Hamzah was catering to.
“No reason for him to bring up the sodomy cases and the Agenzia Nova frivolous article about Anwar. It’s all optics for the people in the Green Belt,” @A_Hxrrxz tweeted.
Perikatan leader Muhyiddin had refused to participate in a unity government when the king had proposed the idea after no party won a majority in the Nov. 19 general election.
However, some smaller blocs agreed to cooperate with Anwar’s Pakatan – which had won the largest number of seats – to form a unity government.
After Muhyiddin questioned the legitimacy of the government, Anwar vowed to hold a confidence vote on day one of the first parliament session of his government, which was on Monday.
Anwar easily won the confidence vote.